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Head Algorithmic Retail - IT & Services | Shilpa Rao

Shilpa Rao

Shilpa Rao

"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader" Shilpa Rao

Current role: 

I had a start-up for an AI-powered strategic transformation product for Fashion and Grocery within a large IT company. My responsibilities are similar to those of a start-up CEO, right from conceptualization of the product to implementation for customers, driving revenue targets, customer delight, and business value.

Beginning of corporate journey:

I grew up in a suburb of Mumbai- Malad in a very protective environment. I call out Malad specifically because that was my world back then. My school, my engineering college where I completed my BE in IT, and my B-School where I did my MBA were all in a 1 km radius.

Most vacations were stay-cations and even when I was looking for my job, the only reason I joined my company was that they had an office in Malad. However, destiny had other things in store for me. I was posted in Chennai and now with my work, I often travel 20-25 days in a month to over 15+ countries. My very first assignment was in the UK and I was posted in a remote village in the true sense.

Being from a city like Mumbai, this transformation of getting out of my protective cocoon was not easy. I had spent several days crying, eating ice creams, and facing the pain of growing up, constantly telling myself that All was well. My time after work while waiting for the next bus service was spent in the nearby grocery store where I simply observed customers shopping, store associates refilling the shelves, and the product availability. It was during this time that I realized the amount of food being wasted in some communities right from the grocer's shelves, and felt just so criminal to me. I used to ask about the same but never got answers that would make sense to me.

Coming from a family where I was brought up learning the importance of food and how we should never waste it, else children in other parts of the world would sleep on empty stomachs. That was the time when I felt the need to change things, and that gave the genesis of the idea which has now evolved into a product for retailers. It not only helps retailers to serve their customers better but, at the same time helps reduce wastage and become more sustainable, thus driving sales and profitability.

Overcoming Struggles/ Challenges:

Incubating a start-up within a company comes with its own set of challenges. You have this great idea and vision, which you are super, excited about, but not all share that excitement or passion. Getting people to see, what you see is the most challenging as well as the fun part of incubation. I feel very lucky that I was surrounded by my manager and other colleagues who supported me and stood by me. In our earlier days, we were dismissed several times and had to find creative ways of doing things.

We did not have a lot of funding for operations, let alone marketing. Getting our product in front of CXOs in a multibillion-dollar US retailer is not easy. We did not have a budget for a sales team. We just knew we had to sell our innovation; else, we had to shut down. While researching the retailer we came across a hackathon, that the retailer was conducting and it had audiences from the departments we were trying to reach.

We worked day and night to get the best version of the product out and were successful at the event, which led us to the meeting with the CXO we were targeting. This meeting helped us crack our first deal. Since then we have constantly identified creative ways of making our product better and reaching out to clients.

Getting internal buy-in, Is also as important as getting a customer buy-in. In this case, I could relate to the passion of Maya, a CIA analyst from the movie Zero Dark Thirty who stuck to her passion, and persuaded everyone to follow her lead on the hideout location of the target. The whole journey was very enriching and fulfilling and I look forward to our next phase of exponential growth and opportunities.

Proud Achievements:

On the professional front, getting our start up from concept to delivering USD 2 Billion+ value to customers, 30+ patents, and winning several awards including AI conics last year have been an enriching experience. On the personal front, I was the finalist at Haut Monde Mrs. India Worldwide 2019 held in Greece and won the sponsors award, it was a journey of self-discovery and a cornucopia of creativity for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A Turning Point In Your Life:

We were a happy middle-class nuclear family with our own sets of trials and tribulations. However, our world turned upside down, when I was in my tenth grade and my mother was diagnosed with leukemia. I still remember the day she was been taken to the hospital for her second chemo. She was very weak and frail and barely could walk. All this while I had put up a brave face since I was the strength of both my parents.

Just before going to the hospital, my mom and my dad got in a group hug, knowing that this might be the last time we would see my mom alive in the house. I was fighting back my tears so hard, but they escaped. My mom who had taken cancer in her stride and smiled her way through the pain of the chemo, told me that time Promise me, whatever the situation is, you will always smile. That was the turning point of my life. I realized how evanescent life is, and how important it is to live now and be happy. This helped me to look at every situation with an open mind and smile finding the happy in that situation.

Your Idol/Mentor:

Well, I have several mentors / idols who inspired me and helped me through various stages of my life. My mother who fought cancer with a smile, taught me to smile, in whatever situation life throws at me, and my father who always encouraged me to try out new things and said standing at the foothills, gazing at the sky, you will not get there unless you try.

My mentor and manager believed in me and continually supported me through the various stages. My husband and in-laws, and canine daughters, are my cheerleaders and support system. Mostly importantly my team and customers who I learn from every day. I also look up to Elon Musk for his ability to dream big and take bigger risks.

Your Advice: 

Believe in things that you do and do things that you believe in. With belief, focus, and action great things can be achieved.